Storyville: Story Dissection — "In His House"

Today we’re going to be dissecting one of my short stories, “In His House,” which was published in The Nightside Codex (Silent Motorist Media) in 2020. It was edited by Justin Burnett, and was my first time alongside Brian Evenson! It also included work by Stephen Graham Jones, Philip Fracassi, and Nadia Bulkin.

So, the first thing you need to do is read the story, which is about 2,000 words. I hope you enjoy it!


IN HIS HOUSE

Hello my friend,

Thank you for taking the time to read my missive. I’m not sure exactly where this has ended up. I’ve been sending out this note for millennia now, in so many forms. Perhaps you are reading this someplace in public—tacked up in a grocery store, or taped to a telephone pole. Maybe this arrived in your mailbox in the form of a letter. I’ve even heard that it has somehow worked its way into various anthologies of fiction, passing itself off as a story. How amusing. However it got to you, thank you for taking the time to read it. My fractured soul depends on your help here, your involvement, your support.

ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

Don’t worry about how you pronounced it, you saw it with your mind, the letters were arranged and presented, that is all that matters here.

That wasn’t so painful now, was it?

Keep reading.

Thank you.

I have lived in the shadows for so long now, trying to rid myself of this unholy curse. It has not been easy. But what I’ve found is that humanity is not without heart—I’m counting on that, my friend, your kindness here, and your willingness to keep reading. You’d be surprised at how few stop. Even when presented with such strange, hard to pronounce words. No, people keep reading. Especially if they feel like they can help somebody, if somebody is in distress.

Human nature, I suppose.

I can remember seeing so many examples of this over the years, and it has always given me hope. And that is what I needed, to find not just a handful of willing supplicants, I mean, kind citizens, to take a tiny bit of this weight off of my shoulders, by the hundreds, no, thousands. You are one of many. You are legion.

I’ve seen women tied to stakes, and the flames lit, only to have an uprising mount, rebellion in the form of pitchforks and dull knives—justice dispensed. I’ve seen men strung up with rope for the color of their skin, the threads cut before the trapdoor opened its gaping maw, the innocent falling through, and running away—free at last, the crowd in hushed anger, smiles creeping over so many, many faces. I’ve seen cars plummet into ponds, lakes, rivers, off bridges—Good Samaritans risking their own lives to dive into the water, and pull out the driver—no matter the details—mouth covered with tape, hands tied, teeth knocked out, buck naked. Always presumed innocent.

So rarely true.

And I sense you listening now, taking this all in. Curious. Wondering how you got here, and what you might be able to do, how you can help.

It’s not hard.

I just need you to listen.

And keep listening.

That part, is essential.

I need you to recite a few strange words into the morning sun, or the afternoon doldrums, or the long, ever-expanding night. Wherever you are, whenever you are, whoever you are.

In his house, he waits dreaming.

I had dreams once, of a life filled with laughter and love, friendship and success, so many ways that my innocent childhood might unfurl into adult responsibilities, and fulfillment.

None came to pass.

Instead, I live in the shadows now, in the gaps between the letters, the very letters you are reading right now, my friend.

ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

That’s twice now, good, good…we’re getting somewhere. Don’t give up now, don’t turn away, I know you want to see how this turns out. What you’ve gotten yourself into. That cat is so curious, right?

Silly cat.

We don’t have that far to go now, just relax, and this will all be over soon. But maybe I can at least help explain how you got here, and what brought us together, yes?

I think so.

It’s the least I can do.

You’ve been feeling unhappy of late, yes? Correct? Not satisfied with the way things are going. There has been a sadness at the periphery, black motes when you close your eyes, rubbing your eyelids with your fingers, fireworks buried under the flesh. Something looming, perhaps, a sense of dread? Anxiety worming its way over your flesh, a sheen of sweat dotting your brow, your upper lip shining in the dark. You’ve been saying prayers at night, my friend, lying on your back, staring at the ceiling.

Why me, you say.

Why not me, you ask.

I deserve better.

I deserve more.

Yes, you do.

We all want to live deliciously.

Nobody wants to be a footnote.

When you are awake at night, unable to sleep, and you open your mind, heart, and soul to the universe, you should probably be more specific. There are many gods, and many lords. You have not framed your requests in the appropriate Latin phrases, you have not quoted from texts that are clear and concise. You have been broad in your desperation.

In your urgency you have opened the windows, flung wide the door, and shouted to the darkest corners of the universe that you are an endless void, a bottomless pit, seeking something greater to fill you up with light.

Without light, there cannot be shadow.

Without shadow, we cannot exist.

I sense in your daily life that there has been a burning, a building up of something grand, waiting for release. You are no longer patient. You are frustrated. You see the world around you drowning in chaos, and wonder why these things are allowed to happen.

It is a numbing, a beating down, a litany of broken promises, dark words uttered in the night, to lost souls that have nowhere else to go. If they were to truly search these lies and distractions, they would know it was all false.

But they do not seek the truth.

Not really.

They only seek privilege.

The only want to be in the majority.

To have the world the way that best serves them, and only them.

It is an extremely narrow way of viewing it all.

And it will be their downfall.

Even now I see you are starting to question this. But I’m afraid it’s too late. You are too far gone now. I could tell you to step away, but you won’t. You are standing there, sitting there, lying there—reading these words—and yet you will not put this calling down. You will not turn away. There is a hint that something amazing might happen, that you have discovered something truly spectacular. That you have been chosen.

And you’re not wrong.

You have been chosen.

As I once was, so very long ago.

But I have grown tired, and promises were made.

I just had to be clever, look between, recruit, rephrase, rejoice.

I would like to talk to you about our Lord and Savior—the High Priest of the Great Old Ones, The Eternal Dreamer, The Sleeper of  R’lyeh.

He will be your undoing.

He will remake you in his image.

As he has done with me.

In the shadows, I have seen mankind push itself to the very brink of annihilation, only to pull itself back, time and time again. But we are so close now. Perhaps you are the linchpin, the impetus, the catalyst for change that we need so urgently.

You have a chance to go down in history here, to be one of the many that led to the great awakening.

Dig deep, really ask yourself what it is that is so important. What are you doing? What have you done?

My friend, you can live forever.

We are all matter, tiny atoms, held together by so very little. Become one with us, become something greater.

In the beginning I too questioned it all, my place in the pantheon, my role in the great undoing. And when I released my ego, when I let go of my humanity, I saw how things might be—the expanding darkness, the eternity, the peace. How it might right the scales, and silence the masses.

It is time to wipe the slate clean, to start over, the God of Light given his chance, his time—the Lord of Darkness ready to reign. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

In the coming plague, all will be sorted, none will be denied. The liars will be told the truth, and shown the errors of their ways. The bigots will be rightly educated—for all of mankind is the same—born into sin, a slow descent into madness and betrayal. The rapists and murderers will be torn asunder—one agonizing digit and limb at a time, shown the many ways that they may suffer too, and it will be glorious, their undoing.

You will not be alone.

There was a time in the beginning when I too questioned the plan—staring out over the deadlands, the wastelands, at the dry, desert landscape, the hellfires that burned over the horizon, the masses growing in number, filling in one valley after another. The way the earth cracked open, strange appendages and tentacles spooling out of the steaming cracks. The forests at the edge of the mountains spilling creatures on four legs, humping and galloping over the foliage, and into the high grasses as the growth turned into spoil. And up over the range lurked flying beasts with cracked, leathery wings—thick purple veins running through the expanding, unfurling flesh—elongated skulls holding back rows of sharp teeth, chittering in the settling gloam. Below the hills, pools of water, sometimes blue, but more likely a mossy green, a dark scum, filled with gelatinous blobs, covered with spiky hairs, a collection of yellowing eyes atop what might have been considered some kind of head. And snapping at my own heels, the furry creatures with mottled, diseased skin revealed in chunks, snouts exposed to show the fractured, bony skulls beneath it all, long, slavering tongues distending, lapping at the foul air around us.

Yes, I paused.

I wondered.

As you may be wondering now.

What have you done, exactly, here?

And how can you undo it now?

ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

The third time, thrice it has been uttered.

It is too late now, my friend.

You are one of us, now.

There is no point in tossing the book across the room, in tearing the letter to shreds, in crumpling up the post, or deleting the email that somehow ended up infecting your computer. What has been done, is now done.

There will come a time, in the not so distant future, when you will be summoned. The call cannot be ignored. It will ring true, deep into the night, so prepare yourself for the looming war, the encroaching darkness, and know that you have chosen well.

It was always going to be this way, so take your seat among the minions burbling at the feet of our master, and do his bidding, as you’ve always been destined to do.

When you closed your eyes, and cried out into the darkness, you asked for help. It has arrived. When you said, “Anyone, anywhere, please…” know that you were heard, and that your longing will soon be satiated. You do not have to worry any longer, take a deep breath, my friend, and surrender to the darkness.

As I once did.

As I continue to do.

But not for long.

You, and millions like you, have diverted his attention away from me, bit by bit, step by step, piece by piece. And when his gaze finally shifts to the growing army that lingers at the foot of the mountains, at the edge of the great forest, by the cracked earth, and undulating waters I will be free. You have a role now, a job to do, and in it, you will be fulfilled, made whole—in your greed, and selfishness, and whining impatience.

My work here is done.

The Great Dreamer awakens.

In his house, there will be much suffering.

DISSECTION

So, the basic concept of this story was that there is this guy, and he is a child of Lovecraft’s world, a messenger of Cthulhu. He is sending you an email, so that you might be a part of their organization. I decided to write this in second-person, and in an epistolary format. This was originally for a publication that was putting out an anthology of epistolary stories, and then they went under. I wanted him to speak directly to you the reader, as if he was an old friend. I also wanted you to say the weird phrase three times (like in the film Beetlejuice). And by reading the story, you are forced to do that. Once you’ve said it three times, you have completed the pact. Let’s dig in, shall we?

In His House

ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

So it starts with the title, always your first chance to hook. If you are familiar with Lovecraft and Cthulhu then some of these phrases, words, and terms will clue you in to what’s coming. That starts with the title. The phrase I make you recite three times translates as, “In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” So that’s where the title comes from. If you don’t know Lovecraft, I don’t think it matters. It’s a lesser hook then, but the concept of being “in his house” I think does grab you a little bit. Whose house? Where are we? There is a little bit of dread and uncertainty there.

Hello my friend,

Thank you for taking the time to read my missive. I’m not sure exactly where this has ended up. I’ve been sending out this note for millennia now, in so many forms. Perhaps you are reading this someplace in public—tacked up in a grocery store, or taped to a telephone pole. Maybe this arrived in your mailbox in the form of a letter. I’ve even heard that it has somehow worked its way into various anthologies of fiction, passing itself off as a story. How amusing. However it got to you, thank you for taking the time to read it. My fractured soul depends on your help here, your involvement, your support.

ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

I start this off with a very informal opening, just a friend sending an email. I wanted that casual tone, and familiarity. The word “missive” seems older here, the word “millennia” also clueing you in to this being old, having gone on for a long time. I also try to reach through the story by asking where this appeared. And since you’re reading this story in the anthology (originally) hopefully that works. Fractured soul takes this farther, and then we get that phrase. So, in my opinion, I hopefully hook you a little bit with the title, with the weirdly informal opening, the second-person POV and voice, the little clues of this being an ancient message, and then the strange phase. I’m trying to hook you multiple times here.

Don’t worry about how you pronounced it, you saw it with your mind, the letters were arranged and presented, that is all that matters here.

That wasn’t so painful now, was it?

Keep reading.

Thank you.

The next few lines just further support his desire to get you to read this story, and to say the phrase, to read it, to see it. That’s important.

I have lived in the shadows for so long now, trying to rid myself of this unholy curse. It has not been easy. But what I’ve found is that humanity is not without heart—I’m counting on that, my friend, your kindness here, and your willingness to keep reading. You’d be surprised at how few stop. Even when presented with such strange, hard to pronounce words. No, people keep reading. Especially if they feel like they can help somebody, if somebody is in distress.

Human nature, I suppose.

I can remember seeing so many examples of this over the years, and it has always given me hope. And that is what I needed, to find not just a handful of willing supplicants, I mean, kind citizens, to take a tiny bit of this weight off of my shoulders, by the hundreds, no, thousands. You are one of many. You are legion.

This is where we raise the stakes. We want to start to build up this world, and increase the tension, expanding the internal and external conflicts. He explains his life—in the shadows, this curse, not easy. He speaks to humanity, and your kindness. He thanks you for reading the phrase. And then he lets slip the phrase “willing supplicants” and then corrects to “kind citizens.” You may start to feel like you can’t trust him. And that’s good. I want that unease to slip in. The word “legion” is also chosen to add discomfort, to tie into this world.

I’ve seen women tied to stakes, and the flames lit, only to have an uprising mount, rebellion in the form of pitchforks and dull knives—justice dispensed. I’ve seen men strung up with rope for the color of their skin, the threads cut before the trapdoor opened its gaping maw, the innocent falling through, and running away—free at last, the crowd in hushed anger, smiles creeping over so many, many faces. I’ve seen cars plummet into ponds, lakes, rivers, off bridges—Good Samaritans risking their own lives to dive into the water, and pull out the driver—no matter the details—mouth covered with tape, hands tied, teeth knocked out, buck naked. Always presumed innocent.

So rarely true.

This paragraph is where I expand the world, since so much of this is abstract, mostly just a conversation. I wanted to SHOW his world, his life, the things he has seen. And he hints at the innocence, and then takes that away with, “So rarely true.” He’s planting seeds of doubts as he shows you history—stake burning, lynch mobs, etc. He’s trying to confuse you, to force you to see the good and bad in people. Is he telling the truth or lying? Both.

And I sense you listening now, taking this all in. Curious. Wondering how you got here, and what you might be able to do, how you can help.

It’s not hard.

I just need you to listen.

And keep listening.

That part, is essential.

I need you to recite a few strange words into the morning sun, or the afternoon doldrums, or the long, ever-expanding night. Wherever you are, whenever you are, whoever you are.

In his house, he waits dreaming.

I had dreams once, of a life filled with laughter and love, friendship and success, so many ways that my innocent childhood might unfurl into adult responsibilities, and fulfillment.

None came to pass.

Instead, I live in the shadows now, in the gaps between the letters, the very letters you are reading right now, my friend.

ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

There is a lot of informal conversation here, him speaking directly to you, mostly encouraging you to keep reading, to keep listening. He speaks to wherever you are in the world—morning, noon, or night. He talks of his own dream, and how they didn’t happen. And then the phrase comes up again, the second time. He just said that he lives in the gaps between the letters of this phrase, and then BAM, makes you read it again.

That’s twice now, good, good…we’re getting somewhere. Don’t give up now, don’t turn away, I know you want to see how this turns out. What you’ve gotten yourself into. That cat is so curious, right?

Silly cat.

We don’t have that far to go now, just relax, and this will all be over soon. But maybe I can at least help explain how you got here, and what brought us together, yes?

I think so.

It’s the least I can do.

He mentions the second time, encouraging you to keep going, a bit of humor with the idea of “curiosity killing the cat.” And then he drops another bomb, saying that he can explain how YOU got here, what brought US together here. Which I think the reader might want to know, right? Why them? Why you?

You’ve been feeling unhappy of late, yes? Correct? Not satisfied with the way things are going. There has been a sadness at the periphery, black motes when you close your eyes, rubbing your eyelids with your fingers, fireworks buried under the flesh. Something looming, perhaps, a sense of dread? Anxiety worming its way over your flesh, a sheen of sweat dotting your brow, your upper lip shining in the dark. You’ve been saying prayers at night, my friend, lying on your back, staring at the ceiling.

Why me, you say.

Why not me, you ask.

I deserve better.

I deserve more.

Yes, you do.

We all want to live deliciously.

Nobody wants to be a footnote.

When you are awake at night, unable to sleep, and you open your mind, heart, and soul to the universe, you should probably be more specific. There are many gods, and many lords. You have not framed your requests in the appropriate Latin phrases, you have not quoted from texts that are clear and concise. You have been broad in your desperation.

In your urgency you have opened the windows, flung wide the door, and shouted to the darkest corners of the universe that you are an endless void, a bottomless pit, seeking something greater to fill you up with light.

Without light, there cannot be shadow.

Without shadow, we cannot exist.

I sense in your daily life that there has been a burning, a building up of something grand, waiting for release. You are no longer patient. You are frustrated. You see the world around you drowning in chaos, and wonder why these things are allowed to happen.

It is a numbing, a beating down, a litany of broken promises, dark words uttered in the night, to lost souls that have nowhere else to go. If they were to truly search these lies and distractions, they would know it was all false.

But they do not seek the truth.

Not really.

They only seek privilege.

The only want to be in the majority.

To have the world the way that best serves them, and only them.

It is an extremely narrow way of viewing it all.

And it will be their downfall.

Even now I see you are starting to question this. But I’m afraid it’s too late. You are too far gone now. I could tell you to step away, but you won’t. You are standing there, sitting there, lying there—reading these words—and yet you will not put this calling down. You will not turn away. There is a hint that something amazing might happen, that you have discovered something truly spectacular. That you have been chosen.

And you’re not wrong.

You have been chosen.

As I once was, so very long ago.

But I have grown tired, and promises were made.

I just had to be clever, look between, recruit, rephrase, rejoice.

All of this is one long passage that is here to speak to why you, why now. There is a long paragraph that addresses your life, weird elements of it, and I’m hoping that in some ways I may grab hold of some truth in the reader’s life—sadness, frustration, etc. He asks if you deserve more, and I drop in a little Easter egg of a line about living deliciously, which is in the movie, The Witch. Which should clue you in to the deal Thomasin made with the devil, a similar deal happening here. He talks about lying in bed, praying, which I suppose a great many of us have done at one point or another, and he floats the idea that you never know who may be listening. It might be more than just God. Others listen. He talks about good and evil, light and shadow, concepts that play out in religion. And then it also addresses frustration with the state of the world, floating some concepts that are not so buried—about the majority, about privilege, about narrow views. He’s trying to address an audience that I hope is mostly Democratic, Liberal, or Progressive—hinting at the injustices in the world. I want this to rally the troops, anyone seeking justice. The word “calling” is floated. And he talks about being chosen. Which can be a good or a bad thing. I’m hoping at this point that the reader can see both paths, but are mostly feeling dread, uncertainty, and maybe a touch of panic.

I would like to talk to you about our Lord and Savior—the High Priest of the Great Old Ones, The Eternal Dreamer, The Sleeper of  R’lyeh.

He will be your undoing.

He will remake you in his image.

As he has done with me.

In the shadows, I have seen mankind push itself to the very brink of annihilation, only to pull itself back, time and time again. But we are so close now. Perhaps you are the linchpin, the impetus, the catalyst for change that we need so urgently.

You have a chance to go down in history here, to be one of the many that led to the great awakening.

Dig deep, really ask yourself what it is that is so important. What are you doing? What have you done?

My friend, you can live forever.

We are all matter, tiny atoms, held together by so very little. Become one with us, become something greater.

In the beginning I too questioned it all, my place in the pantheon, my role in the great undoing. And when I released my ego, when I let go of my humanity, I saw how things might be—the expanding darkness, the eternity, the peace. How it might right the scales, and silence the masses.

It is time to wipe the slate clean, to start over, the God of Light given his chance, his time—the Lord of Darkness ready to reign. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

In the coming plague, all will be sorted, none will be denied. The liars will be told the truth, and shown the errors of their ways. The bigots will be rightly educated—for all of mankind is the same—born into sin, a slow descent into madness and betrayal. The rapists and murderers will be torn asunder—one agonizing digit and limb at a time, shown the many ways that they may suffer too, and it will be glorious, their undoing.

You will not be alone.

This whole next section just comes out and states what has been buried. It’s time to start revealing things, so that the ending can have impact. No more being cute, subtle, or devious. He is speaking about Cthulhu here, though he hasn’t quite named him (even if the name does appear in the phrase). You are now being touted as not a savior of mankind, but somebody who can help end it, and usher in his reign. You can live forever. He is giving you purpose. And he’s selling it pretty good, right? I mean, hopefully. The liars, the bigots, the rapists—they will be punished. So how can you not want to sign up, right? You will not be alone. And yet…I think we all still feel pretty unsettled by what he’s selling here. And then I unload with the darkest, most tactile, and unsettling passage in the story. My goal here is to really drop the veil and show it all here.

There was a time in the beginning when I too questioned the plan—staring out over the deadlands, the wastelands, at the dry, desert landscape, the hellfires that burned over the horizon, the masses growing in number, filling in one valley after another. The way the earth cracked open, strange appendages and tentacles spooling out of the steaming cracks. The forests at the edge of the mountains spilling creatures on four legs, humping and galloping over the foliage, and into the high grasses as the growth turned into spoil. And up over the range lurked flying beasts with cracked, leathery wings—thick purple veins running through the expanding, unfurling flesh—elongated skulls holding back rows of sharp teeth, chittering in the settling gloam. Below the hills, pools of water, sometimes blue, but more likely a mossy green, a dark scum, filled with gelatinous blobs, covered with spiky hairs, a collection of yellowing eyes atop what might have been considered some kind of head. And snapping at my own heels, the furry creatures with mottled, diseased skin revealed in chunks, snouts exposed to show the fractured, bony skulls beneath it all, long, slavering tongues distending, lapping at the foul air around us.

Finally got my tentacles in here. I wanted to show all manner of horror here in creatures, setting, sensation, etc. By this point, I’m hoping to really show this world, this hell, and what he’s trying to do. This is not good. This is the climax, with the resolution coming up very soon. This has built to a reveal, and now we need the full truth, the reversal, which is coming up soon.

Yes, I paused.

I wondered.

As you may be wondering now.

What have you done, exactly, here?

And how can you undo it now?

ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

The third time, thrice it has been uttered.

It is too late now, my friend.

You are one of us, now.

So after that depiction of beasts and horrors I wanted to seal the deal. This third uttering of this phrase has completed the ritual. You are now part of it, one of them, you are legion. To me this is the reversal, this is the change in the story. The whole thing has been building up to you saying this phrase three times, and now it has happened. The external conflict has to do with this army he is building, and now that he has secured you as one of the soldiers, one of the minion, the many, that loop has been closed. His internal is about to be solved as well. But this is the change I need in the story, with the denouement right around the corner as well.

There is no point in tossing the book across the room, in tearing the letter to shreds, in crumpling up the post, or deleting the email that somehow ended up infecting your computer. What has been done, is now done.

There will come a time, in the not so distant future, when you will be summoned. The call cannot be ignored. It will ring true, deep into the night, so prepare yourself for the looming war, the encroaching darkness, and know that you have chosen well.

It was always going to be this way, so take your seat among the minions burbling at the feet of our master, and do his bidding, as you’ve always been destined to do.

When you closed your eyes, and cried out into the darkness, you asked for help. It has arrived. When you said, “Anyone, anywhere, please…” know that you were heard, and that your longing will soon be satiated. You do not have to worry any longer, take a deep breath, my friend, and surrender to the darkness.

As I once did.

As I continue to do.

But not for long.

This part is mostly here to address the idea that it’s too late. That circle has been closed. And then he says basically that there will come a time when you will be summoned, and you will be unable to ignore it. Your prayers have been answered, just not in the way you thought they might. Surrender to the darkness.

Now, one thing that I’m starting here, has to do with HIS story. He was once like you, like us. Innocent, outside of this, unknowing. But he’s getting out. Keep reading. Here are the final lines.

You, and millions like you, have diverted his attention away from me, bit by bit, step by step, piece by piece. And when his gaze finally shifts to the growing army that lingers at the foot of the mountains, at the edge of the great forest, by the cracked earth, and undulating waters I will be free. You have a role now, a job to do, and in it, you will be fulfilled, made whole—in your greed, and selfishness, and whining impatience.

My work here is done.

The Great Dreamer awakens.

In his house, there will be much suffering.

He has passed the baton to the next generation of Cthulhu’s army. He has been working on this for a very long time. And in that moment of distraction, he is going to escape. He is getting out. His work here is done. The Great Dreamer awakens. And in his house, there will be much suffering.

It’s hard to tell which side you are on here, right? Are you good or bad? Is Cthulhu doing something powerful and righteous and noble? Or something horrible? Much like Thomasin at the end of The Witch, what does her future hold? That pretty dress, that pad of butter—in puritanical times, there was so little joy, or pleasure, unless it was wrapped in religious rapture. There is appeal in the darkness, in the Dionysian, in the pleasure of the flesh, and mind, and certain deeds.

So HIS internal conflict has been resolved, he has gotten out, and will no longer suffer. The denouement and epiphany is all of this information he has laid on you, showing you what you will be a part of—very soon. Are you excited? Scared? Freaked out? Eager? Hopefully all of that. I want uncertainty. There is no black and white here, so many shades of gray, on both sides of this narrative. I want you to be unsettled, but maybe, kind of thrilled at the possibility, too. Like Thomasin.

IN CONCLUSION

So I hope you enjoyed the story and my dissection here. My goal with this epistolary, Lovecraftian story was to use the casual tone and format of an email (and second-person voice) to slip into the life of the reader, to catch them off guard. I spoke to a wide range of fears and hopes, using a bit of a shotgun approach, hoping that one of the concepts or emotions (or more) might work, might strike a nerve. I wanted to bury the Lovecraft lore and then slowly reveal it over time, bit by bit, building up tension, and unease. I wanted you to say or read those three phrases and have it be more uncomfortable each time you did it. I wanted to write a story that was meta-fictional—reaching off the page and interacting with you, the reader. And in the end, I wanted to blur the lines between good and evil, showing you both sides of desire and purpose, so that you aren’t quite sure where you stand, and what this all means, as far as your involvement, and what might be coming. I think you can see how the Freytag elements play out here, and hopefully it works for you—entertaining, unsettling, maybe a laugh or two, some recognition of classic horror elements, leading to an ending that stays with you.

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Richard Thomas

Column by Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas is the award-winning author of seven books: three novels—Disintegration and Breaker (Penguin Random House Alibi), as well as Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications); three short story collections—Staring into the Abyss (Kraken Press), Herniated Roots (Snubnose Press), and Tribulations (Cemetery Dance); and one novella in The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). With over 140 stories published, his credits include The Best Horror of the Year (Volume Eleven), Cemetery Dance (twice), Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders (Bram Stoker winner), PANK, storySouth, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Qualia Nous, Chiral Mad (numbers 2-4), and Shivers VI (with Stephen King and Peter Straub). He has won contests at ChiZine and One Buck Horror, has received five Pushcart Prize nominations, and has been long-listed for Best Horror of the Year six times. He was also the editor of four anthologies: The New Black and Exigencies (Dark House Press), The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press) and Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk. He has been nominated for the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, and Thriller awards. In his spare time he is a columnist at Lit Reactor and Editor-in-Chief at Gamut Magazine. His agent is Paula Munier at Talcott Notch. For more information visit www.whatdoesnotkillme.com.

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